Crank nosebands cause horses physical and emotional harm, Sydney researchers have found
May 12, 2016 | News | by The Learning Press staff
University of Sydney scientists have found that the nosebands used in eventing, showjumping and dressage competitions are cruel and cause horses significant pain and stress.
The researchers from USYD’s Faculty of Veterinary Science describe the restrictive nosebands as “a serious animal welfare issue” for horses in equestrian events.
The study has proved for the first time that horses show physiological stress responses when they are prevented from moving their jaws.
The use of restrictive nosebands to bind together the jaws of sport horses is increasingly popular, with estimates suggesting that half of the horses competing in dressage, show-jumping and eventing cannot open their mouths at all.
The study’s senior author, Professor Paul McGreevy, said the research shows how restrictive nosebands compromise natural behaviours and trigger a significant stress response.
He argues the devices may violate the International Equestrian Federation’s rule that nosebands are ‘never as tightly fixed so as to harm the horse’.
“In light of the current results, horse sport administrators may need to decide which oral behaviours they can afford to see eliminated in the name of sport,” he said.
“Tight nosebands can mask unacceptably rough riding.
“While wearing a bitted bridle, horses are highly motivated to open their mouths to find comfort but in dressage competitions, this response attracts penalties.”
To avoid such penalties, many riders crank the jaws together with a system of leather pulleys (a crank noseband).
The device is permitted under noseband rules, written before cranking was conceived, even though it increases pain and discomfort from the bits.
The increase in pressure boosts the rider’s control of the horse, which is why crank nosebands appeal to show-jumpers and eventers as well as dressage riders.
Pressure from nosebands has been likened to pressure from a tourniquet and according to the researchers, often exceeds levels associated in humans with tissue and nerve damage.
Crank nosebands are padded to avoid cutting into the surface of the skin, but inside the mouth, they force the cheeks against naturally sharp molars and are associated with lacerations and ulcers.
“The horse’s challenge when managing discomfort from a single bit is magnified if it is required to accommodate two bits, as is common at the elite level in dressage,” said Professor McGreevy.
“For example, every dressage horse at Olympic level must compete with a double bridle which means there are two metal bits in its mouth, one of which is a lever that tightens a metal chain under the chin.
“The incentive for riders to bind these horses’ jaws together to prevent displays of resistance increases accordingly.”
The team from the University of Sydney has been studying the effects of noseband tightening on horses’ behaviour, cardiac responses and eye temperature (a proxy for physiological stress).
Its findings, published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, show that tight nosebands “profoundly” reduce yawning, licking, chewing and swallowing in horses wearing a double bridle.
The study is also the first to show that when the nosebands are removed and yawning, chewing, licking and swallowing are no longer prevented, horses show more of these behaviours.
”This so-called post-inhibitory rebound reveals the fundamental importance of these oral comfort behaviours,” Professor McGreevy said.
Many manuals and older rulebooks propose that “two fingers” be used as a spacer to guard against over-tightening, but usually fail to specify where these should be placed or the size of the fingers.
In a response to the lack of precision and the prevalence of noseband tightening, the International Society for Equitation Science in 2012 called for a limit on noseband tightening and for the routine use of a standardised taper gauge.
Approximately 30 animal protection groups from around the world have now called on the Federation Equestre International (FEI) to adopt this approach.
Professor MCGreevy has previously written about the use of whips in horse racing: